Why get involved ? Motivations for supporting OWS differ across the globe

As I have discussed in my previous posts, Occupy Wall Street is a global social movement of unprecedented size. The movement is also noteworthy for its refusal to articulate demands which would be seen as the goals of every participant in the movement. In the early stages of the movement, a “Demands” group working from Manhattan attempted to devise a specific proposal on behalf of OWS demanding the ending of all wars and heavier taxation on the wealthy in order to implement a New-Deal style programme which would create 25 million government jobs. However, this proposal met with stringent opposition from other segments of the movement. In response, other OWS members worked together online to create the Liberty Square Blueprint, a document discouraging the formation of goals and outlining a very broad “vision” of what the OWS movement hoped to accomplish. An excerpt from the document reads, “Demands cannot reflect inevitable success. Demands imply condition, and we will never stop.” In other words, since demands cannot adequately convey the magnitude of the social revolution OWS hopes to effectuate, they are not appropriate for the movement. Those opposed to goals see the enumeration of concrete aims as a threat which would limit the scope and effectiveness of the mocement. Furthermore, the task of setting goals for the movement is complicated by its decentralised nature. A Zucotti Park occupier known as Ketchup explained, “If anyone is attempting to speak for OWS, that’s bullshit” (Harkinson).

Since the movement lacks a clearly defined ideology, reasons for joining may differ between individual protestors. This is especially true when we consider the movement’s spread to other countries. Internationally, OWS has been used in a variety of ways, most of which are different from its original use in Manhattan’s Zucotti Park.

Some individuals, notably EU residents, have used the movement to protest inequality and economic woes in their own countries. Faced with government spending cuts and austerity measures, many of these protestors are being adversely affected by the current economic situation. Others, such as the Iranian protestors, have used the movement as a means of drawing attention to their anti-western stance. Still others have joined the movement, not because they are discontented with their personal economic standing, but as a means of showing solidarity with citizens of other countries whom they perceive to be unjustly suffering.

On its Facebook page, “Occupy Events” has posted several images of individuals affiliated with the  OWS movement. Several of these photographs show an individual holding a piece of paper which describes his or her grievances and support of the movement. Most messages are signed with “I am the 99%.” One of these, written by a young man from Finland who feels “sad” for Americans, is below:

OWS Finland

I am a 21 year-old student from Finland. It makes me sad to hear how Americans are suffering.

Here, our taxes are high but we all benefit from them.

I grew up in the countryside and always had access to the same services that people in the city did.

My university is known around the world in my field and my education is not only free, but my government pays ME [sic] to go to university. Everyone has a right to this.

Everyone has a right to the best healthcare, there is no such thing as health insurance.

I am young now and able to take risks and pursue my passion because I will never have to worry about starving if I loose [sic] my job or my business fails. I know that when I am old my state pension will be there for me so that I can enjoy my retirement.

We call this the Nordic Model, and under it we live well and our businesses are among the most competitive in the world. I am grateful to have been born a citizen of a country that cares for its people, and I hope that one day the USA will take an example from us.

I am the 99%

According to his message, this young man is not personally experiencing any economic hardship. He is pleased with his quality of life, and with life in general in his country. He appears to view the government as a competent, even a benevolent, entity in which he has great confidence. Rather than demanding that another model be adopted in his country, this man recommends that his country’s model be adopted by the United States.

The language used by this OWS sympathiser is one of universal rights. Speaking of education and healthcare, he writes “everyone has a right to this.” He also emphasises the economic and social equality among residents of Finland, explaining that access to social services is the same for all the country’s residents. For this man, Finland’s Nordic Model is beneficial to all its citizens; he writes “we all benefit from them” of his country’s high taxes and “under it we live well” of the Nordic Model. Furthermore, he does not see the Nordic Model as beneficial only to Finland. The young man sees Finland’s system as universally viable and expresses a hope that it will spread to other countries.

This agitator represents an interesting by-product of global protest in the age of social networking. He is involved in the movement to show solidarity for a distant group with whom he likely has no direct connection. Such an action is a result of the weak ties which Malcom Gladwell claims are formed between protestors in the modern era (Gladwell). His message is not one of anger or discontentment, but one of pity and support. Although he has no incentive to take to the streets, he is able to share his support of the movement quickly and easily thanks to the internet.

Surprisingly, this young man’s message has met with disapproval, or even derision, from some of the “Occupy Events” page’s fans. Despite some comments mocking the youth and his country, this young man’s message has spread to a global audience, having received 8 653 “likes” and 4 425 “shares.” Additionally, it is important to remember that the movement’s fan page may be being used by individuals who disagree with OWS. Such a trend has already been seen with OWS-related hashtags on twitter.

In the age of globalisation, greater interconnection breeds ties and feelings of solidarity which bridge oceans and continents. Such a phenomenon would have been highly unusual one hundred years ago, when global communication was extremely limited. OWS’s vague platform and use of modern technology allows its message to spread abroad on an unprecedented scale. When the movement progresses overseas, its message may be changed from its original intent. But some OWS protestors, such as Ketchup, may see this as a highly positive occurrence. Whether or not OWS protestors are happy with the uses of their movement seen overseas, they must certainly be pleased with the additional attention which the activities of international protestors being to their cause (whatever that may be).


8 responses to “Why get involved ? Motivations for supporting OWS differ across the globe

  1. Using Finland’s social and economic model as an ideal, starkly contrasting with an awful American system is a little absurd. Finland is a quiet, homogeneous country with a population of about 5.3 million, which is pretty much the only environment in which the above mentioned system can possibly work. It isn’t even comparable to the US, with a population of well over 300 million and a greater level of cultural, ethnic, and economic diversity than any other country in the world. Ironically enough, Finland’s corporate tax rate is 9% less than America’s. Maybe we should steal a page or two from their book…

    • Haykakan, I agree with you on this point. Although I do not believe such a system would be viable in a country such as the U.S.A., my point is to show the nature of OWS movements around the world, not to critique the feasibility or logic of their aims. Perhaps I will do that in another post… 🙂

  2. coffeeshoprhino

    Does the difference of a protest v. demonstration figure into the issue of OWS verbalizing goals?

    • It certainly does! Thank you for that note. I will bring that difference up in my next post, in which I plan to discuss violence perpetrated by OWS protestors in other countries, and how this sort of manifestation is more likely to occur in a loosely connected, leader-less and goal-less global movement.

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